indonesia - johnt's (m/24/united states) reflections after years there in their teens

posted by johnt on 01/18/14.

3

What brought you to indonesia? Where were you before? What made you choose indonesia over any other place you could've gone?

I actually didn't choose Indonesia. In 2005, I was only 12 at the time, I was living in Mandeville, Louisiana. In April of that year, my dad, who at the time worked for Halliburton Oil Services, found out that he was being transferred and he had the option of going to Houston, Texas or Balikpapan, Indonesia. Even though he's originally from Dallas, you can imagine how badly he did not want to get sucked into Houston, the black hole of the oil field, when he instead took his wife and three kids across the world to Indonesia. This was just completely unexpected. I remember that he had literally two weeks earlier bought my mother a brand new Ford Expedition that would now sit in storage while we were overseas. So, in June of 2005, we left for Balikpapan Indonesia.

We ended up dodging a bullet, because as some of you know, in August of 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans (across Lake Pontchartrain from us) and my whole neighborhood was flooded.

How does the city you live in in indonesia compare to other cities in indonesia?

I lived in both Jakarta and Balikpapan.

When I lived in Balikpapan, they didn't even have a mall or movie theater. I mean it was just developing. Oil/gas and mining were bringing in foreigners and money was just now heavily flowing into the city. I've heard that they have both now, but I haven't been back. It is rapidly expanding.

Jakarta is a different organism. A huge city of 10 million people, and the traffic shows it. It has several very nice malls, and plenty of stuff to do. However you'll see that only about 10% of the population has to financial means to enjoy these facilities. The city is very corrupt as far as government goes. A speeding ticket while I was there went up from 10,000 IDR (roughly $1 USD) to 100,000 IDR ($10). And this wasn't the actual ticket, this was what you were expected to bribe the police officer giving you the ticket. (Sometimes for no reason, sometimes because he saw the driver of the car was white). I got my license there without taking a test at all, this was because I am white and they charged me a little bit more. It's an interesting experience.

How does your race, nationality, gender, accent, etc. affect how you are treated or how people react to meeting you in indonesia? Positively? Negatively?

It is an intoxicating experience. I in no way believe any race or nationality is better than another, but being a white, American male in Indonesia meant I could do almost whatever I wanted. Rules did not apply to me; I rarely had to wait in line for anything. Everything was catered to me. At first it feels like you're a famous person in the US, except no one there hides their staring. I have blonde hair and blue eyes, and Indonesian people would literally ask for a picture with me.

This was mostly due to the fact that Balikpapan isn't a tourist destination at all, so most of these people only see caucasians in Western media. But still, it's odd at first.

Women there aren't treated with the same amount of respect as men, but some of you might have expected that. For instance, in most business transactions (buying furniture, a plumber coming our house), the locals we would talk to would address me over my mother. Even if she was standing there holding the money, they would bargain/interact with me. She absolutely hated it. One man at a furniture store asked her to pick out her furniture and then step outside while the "men" (as in him and my now 13 year-old self) discussed prices. Luckily for her, she did not speak Indonesian very well, so I was translating for her. I just paraphrased what the man said and told her that we should probably shop somewhere else. I was very clear to the furniture store owner why we were leaving, and that while in his culture that may be normal, she knew much more about furniture than I did, so there was no point in bargaining with me.

Both topics discussed from these stories are almost non-existent in tourist locations such as Bali.

How does the language barrier affect you (if it all)?

It only affected me my first year there (out of the 5 total I spent in Indonesia). After that I had learned enough to get by. But during that year it wasn't a problem at all. I lived on an expat compound, so no one in my neighborhood was Indonesian, and they were almost all involved with the oil/gas industry. My school was in English, and was full of expats as well.

What sort of work/school do you do in indonesia? What's it like working (or studying) in indonesia compared to what it was like where you lived before?

I went to an international school for expats (ex-patriots).

This was in when I lived in Jakarta, not Balikpapan. Essentially my school was about 20% American, 35% Korean, 30% Chinese-Indonesian (Chindo), and %15 percent whatever else.

I enjoyed it quite a bit, it allowed me to branch out and learn about several other places simply from talking to my classmates.

As far as the school in Balikpapan, it was insanely small. 60 kids Kindergarten through 8th grade, didn't even have a high school. The middle school section of it that I was in (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) had 8 kids at the start of the year, and by the end we were down to 7. Everyone knows each other really well, but it's hard if there are people that you don't get along with.

Does your money go further or not as far as it does in other countries and cities? Are you able to afford a better standard of living than in other places you've lived, or able to afford less?

Money goes much further in Indonesia, as far as basic commodities go. Groceries are cheaper, beer is cheaper, even water and electricity. The only items that go up are imported items. Do you want a Guinness? Get ready to pay $4 USD a beer. How about a Dr. Pepper? $3 USD a can. But going to a restaurant and eating your fill of good Indonesian food will cost about half of what it would in most Western countries.

Any good stories you can think of that you haven't mentioned yet?

When I lived in Balikpapan, we lived in a small school house converted into a home. It was on this giant hill, so you entered on the second floor, and if you went downstairs, one side of the house was very close to the ground (as in partially underground), and on the other side the window was suspended probably 10m off the ground.

Anyway, this window had a cable running from the outside into the room throw the siding that wasn't probably sealed leaving a visible hole to the outside. During my first year there, we had a black spitting cobra crawl through that hole and coil up on the window seal. It was a young cobra, probably less than 40cm in length, but understandably I was still quite perturbed when I found it.

Being only 12, I informed my parents, who informed our gardener (for the expat compound we lived in). He walked into our laundry room and got a can out of the cabinet. He then walked into the playroom and sprayed the contents of this can into the cobra's face from about 60cm away. The snake started freaking out, waving wildly all about, then it started shivering, and died. After watching this whole ordeal, I thought to myself "What the hell is in that can?"

Raid. Raid Bug spray will kill a damn cobra.

What are your favorite things about indonesia? Least favorite?

My favorite characteristic of Indonesia is definitely the unassuming friendliness of the people. If you imagine your favorite day at the beach, or wherever you feel most relaxed, and you don't have any plans, you're flexible, spontaneous, and you're just living to suck the marrow of out life. That was my overall experience in Indonesia, everyone was there to have a good time. This was evident in certain aspects of the culture that weren't necessarily conventional to other similar countries.

For instance, Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world. Surprising, right? 12.7% of the world's Muslims inhabit Indonesia. And it's obvious as well, with the prayer calls every morning and throughout the day and the mosques on almost every street. However, there were a lot of anomalies well. The population at large was very open to alcohol, as well as the use of marijuana. Drug trafficking in Indonesia earns the death penalty, but inside the country, weed is everywhere. Also a good majority of the women there do not wear the hijab, or traditional Muslim head covering. Now, I'm not saying people who don't drink and choose to wear the head covering aren't easy going. What I'm trying to communicate is that people there mostly leave each other to their own business. You want to drink? That's your choice, and I won't judge you for it. This attitude is what made me fall in love with this country.

Would you recommend indonesia as a place to live, travel to, or neither?

Yes. Very much so. I loved living in both Balikpapan and Jakarta. They both had their drawbacks, but I would go back to Jakarta in a heartbeat. As far as tourism, Indonesia is wonderful. Bali is still my second favorite place on earth (my home of Texas being the first). Lombok and Manado both have the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen.

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